The Japanese government has decided to forgo sending high-ranking state officials to the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics scheduled to start in February 2022. Instead, Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games President Seiko Hashimoto, Japanese Olympic Committee President Yasuhiro Yamashita and Japanese Paralympic Committee President Kazuyuki Mori will attend the upcoming Winter Games.
The United States is already set on a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Games and will not be sending diplomatic delegates based on reasons including China’s human rights issues in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and other areas in the country.
While Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida indicated he would be consistent with Washington’s decision, he likely calculated that sending Hashimoto, who has served as a Cabinet minister, to the Winter Games’ opening ceremony would help him avoid a definitive clash with Beijing.
His decision can be called realistic. China also hasn’t protested it strongly.
Group of Seven major economies are taking different responses to Washington’s diplomatic boycott: while the U.K., Australia and Canada have followed the U.S. approach, France and Italy have maintained their distance.
Kishida emphasized to reporters it was a comprehensive decision he had made alone, and he refrained from using the term “diplomatic boycott.” It’s safe to say he was concerned by potential adverse effects to the Japanese economy in the event China protested its response and retaliated.
Furthermore, the prime minister was mindful of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)’s intra-party affairs.
Some LDP members are unhappy with Kishida and Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, and claim they are “too soft” on China. Under the circumstances, some members demanded the prime minister make an early decision to go ahead with the diplomatic boycott. Had he concluded on sending a serving Cabinet member, he risked a backlash erupting from his party.
Some LDP members have been working to adopt a resolution in the Diet that rebukes human rights violations with China in mind. While the motion was not submitted to the recently adjourned extraordinary Diet session, policies toward China will likely remain a challenge for the Kishida administration in the future.
2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the Japan-China diplomatic normalization. Continuous dialogue is indispensable to building a stable relationship between the two neighboring countries.
Since taking office, Prime Minister Kishida has repeatedly stressed he would “say what needs to be said to China.” But we rarely see him do just that.
To gain understanding for his decision regarding the Winter Games both at home and abroad, it’s about time Kishida sought ways for summit-level talks to put his “say what needs to be said” diplomacy into practice.